Thursday, January 26, 2017

Marks Restaurant

Marks Restaurant is nestled into a beautiful house off Dolley Madison Road. The quaint bar, thoughtful service and scrumptious food makes you feel indeed, right at home. I attended the Stags' Leap wine dinner at Marks on Monday, which also marked the first time I dined at the restaurant. I cannot believe in my 4 years living in Greensboro, that I hadn't been here until now. Stags' Leap is a famed winery in the prestigious Napa Valley, and I couldn't wait to sample some of their varietals. The dinner was seamless, and the food and wine pairings were nothing less than stellar. Mark and his staff should be very proud of the hard work that went into preparing this dinner. It certainly paid off.

From the first pairing, I knew we were in for quite a treat. I prefer red to white, but Napa Chardonnay is very special. The Stags' Leap 2015 Chardonnay was a lovely match to Crab Macaroni & Cheese with Creamy Herb Boursin. The earthy notes from the herbaceous cheese went wonderfully with the buttery, oakey Chardonnay. The crab to noodle ratio was equal - menus often advertise crab or lobster mac & cheese, but then you might find just one or two bites of seafood - not the case here! This rich dish was a perfect, albeit rich way to start the meal.

Red Blends are hit or miss for me. The Investor Red Blend is almost equal parts Merlot - Petite Sirah - Cabernet Sauvignon and while they're all wonderful on their own, this blend seemed a little young, and could have used a little more time to open up. Fortunately I was too busy enjoying the Rack of Lamb (I'd never had lamb on the bone before!) with the Port Wine Demi-Glace and Roasted Root Vegetables. The lamb possessed that lovely unctuous, umami flavor that makes the protein so special, and I was served an end piece, giving me more of that salty crust. The roasted root vegetables were diced a little on the small side, and fresh rosemary covered up some of the port wine flavor, but overall, this was a fantastic dish.

The descriptor of the third course featured some of my favorite words: "kobe", "truffle", "caramelized" and "Cabernet". I've always heard that 2013 was a great year for Napa Cabs, and now I've come to understand why. The perfect Bacon-Wrapped Kobe Beef alongside the Cabernet - these two were made for each other. The beef rested on a Brioche Crouton and was topped with a Caramelized Onion and Truffle reduction. Crispy pea shoots (or perhaps tendrils) adorned the filet for color, and while this was the smallest portion, it was the most memorable.

By the time dessert rolled around, I had done my best to save a little room for at least a bite. The Blackberry-Chocolate Bread Pudding was quite an interesting and risky flavor pairing - raspberry and chocolate tend to be paired together more often - but the texture was fabulous, and it was studded with plump, juicy blackberries. The Cinnamon Creme Anglaise was my favorite part. I'm not a huge chocolate fan, but I very much enjoyed the Petite Sirah that went along with it. Wine and food pairings are so wonderful because when done well, the flavors enhance each other! A different wine would have brought a different dimension to this dish, so I was pleased that this one enhanced the dessert for my palate.

I'm loving the trend of wine dinners in the Triad - you can practically go to a different one every night! But if you have the opportunity to attend one at Marks, jump at it. The pours were ample and the portions were just right. You won't leave over- or under-stuffed. I'm eager to return for more of Mark's food during a "normal" dinner setting, and they are open for lunch, too! I'll be visiting again very, very soon.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Four Flocks and Larder

The Morehead Foundry is all the rage right now in downtown Greensboro. If you haven't visited, surely you've heard of it. If you haven't heard of it, surely you've driven past it on Freeman Mill Road. It's that huge white structure advertising several establishments including "Four Flocks and Larder", "Revolution Burger", "the baker and the bean" and the name of the company, "Fresh Local Good". It's brand-spanking new and the vision of the owners of Iron Hen Cafe (also in Greensboro). I had moderate expectations for Four Flocks and Larder, and my dinner there exceeded every single one.

The atmosphere is excellent. Ceilings are high, the walls are a beautiful dark turquoise hue, and a black and white image of a river sits high above the open, bustling bar. We were seated at a high table, but the chairs weren't stools - they were fancy cloth dining room chairs, a very nice touch. I was tickled to see the words "Julep Menu" on the cocktail list - they don't just serve a standard mint julep - there are several exciting varietals. The Cardinal Sin screamed out to this ginhead, with complimentary notes of rosewater, lemonade, rosemary and mint. I enjoyed this on a damp January night and look forward to sipping one on the patio in June. Crushed ice is a staple, and the glass made it even more fun to drink.
The Cardinal Sin Julep - yum!
Portions are generous, and you will be tempted to try just about everything on the large, creative menu. My party and I started with Chicken Wings & Buffalo Biscuits, which taste even better than they sound. The chicken wings have a salty, spicy and crunchy exterior, and a lot of meat on the bone. The buffalo biscuits are tiny but pack a punch, and are drizzled with blue cheese butter (this descriptor sold me on ordering the dish.) Scallion ranch is a nice cooling condiment for dunking. Eight wings and five mini biscuits later, we were ready for some more meat!
Chicken Wings & Buffalo Biscuits
The description of the Stuffed Whole Quail is just killer: Neese's sausage filling, collards, black-eyed peas and grain mustard. The star of the show is the Neese's (as expected). I think I got two bites of sausage to every one bite of quail, and I'm perfectly okay with that. The collards had a tangy, vinegary flavor, just as they should, but the black-eyed peas and mustard kind of got lost in the dish. The quail is cut into four parts - breast and legs - so you're definitely not shorted on meat.
Stuffed Whole Quail, Collards, Black-Eyed Peas
We wanted to try as many of the delicious sounding sides as possible, so we opted for a few "meat and threes". The Wood Fired Chicken Breast may sound basic, but the tender, smoky meat and the apple cider BBQ sauce made it a very sexy protein. The Wood Fired Duck Breast had that same lovely smoky flavor, with a citrus glaze to brighten it up. Since we got three sides with each protein, we asked our server to bring us the six most popular options. They were all outstanding.

The surprise hit was the White Bread Dressing. I was worried about a mushy texture, but the flavor was insane! It was generally soft, but the crunch of buttery onions and celery bits and the notes of black pepper kept me going back for more. It was better than any Thanksgiving dressing I've ever had. Mashed Yukon Potatoes are a beautiful golden hue, thanks to those Yukon Golds, and are slightly chunky. This is stick-to-your-ribs eating. This plate kept with the Thanksgiving theme, and we finished off with Creamed Corn. This wasn't exactly creamed, at least not how I've had creamed corn growing up, but it was sweet, white, tender and dripping with butter. They might should just re-name it "sweet butter corn" and it would get ordered just as often.
Wood Fired Duck with White Bread Dressing and Mashed Yukons
Another side I would have written off - Roasted Vegetables with toasted bread crumbs - turned out to be my second favorite side. When I think of roasted veggies in a restaurant, I think of squash, zucchini, onion - BORING! This combo included carrots, parsnips and peppers with a sweet, buttery drizzle. They were so simple and so delicious! Sweet Potato Casserole seemed more like roasted sweet potatoes to me, but the sweet, cinnamon flavor alongside the carrots and parsnips was a real treat. These options are definitely more for those with a sweet tooth. There was a little too much oil and butter for these sides - someone just got a bit heavy-handed. You'll see in the photo (not sexy). Southern Style Green Beans were the least exciting side - they were tender haricot verts, and one I probably wouldn't order again (I'd go for the Cheddar Old Mill of Guilford Grits instead!)
Wood Fired Chicken
Service is excellent, and while the food did take a while to come out, there are enough Juleps to keep you company. Especially if you go with great friends, too. Which is advised, so you can work your way through this awesome menu! I am very impressed with this place, and look forward to return visits.

*Additional notes:

"Building your own revolution" at Revolution Burger is quite fun, and if you substitute grilled chicken, you get TWO breasts! I especially loved the Parmesan Truffle Fries and the Salted Caramel Milkshake. They are NOT playing around with the salted part, but paired with real vanilla ice cream, the flavor combo was heavenly. This is salty and sweet at its best.

Walk into the Baker and the Bean to get a Bananas Foster Whoopie Pie the size of your face, and maybe even a Corn (yep, CORN) Cookie before you head into Hush Speakeasy (the entrance is inside the bakery!) Consider going to Hush on a weeknight when it's not packed. The Cheeky Bastard cocktail is worth the wait, though.
Bananas Foster Whoopie Pie - imagine my face next to this for scale.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

La La Land

Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling (really that's all); cameos by JK Simmons and Finn Wittrock
Director: Damien Chazelle

Running Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes
Rating: PG -13

La La Land is a beautiful movie. It's refreshing, and everyone in Hollywood will relate to it as "their story". I certainly did, after having spent a few months in La La Land after college. I saw myself in protagonist Mia, and was reminded how cutthroat yet magical a city it is. Emma Stone plays our heroine, and does a fabulous job. I think she out-acted her frequent screen partner Ryan Gosling, who plays struggling jazz pianist Sebastian. Their story is told with beautiful visuals, fantastical montages and a soundtrack that includes a whimsical tap dance. If you didn't spend a summer in LA or don't love art house films/musical theatre, this movie is not for you. Otherwise, it's a (mostly) feel-good film that's a welcomed change of pace.

Mia and Sebastian are two of the millions of dreamers that comprise LA. If you're not in the biz, you're trying to be. Maybe you're like Mia, a barista between your auditions, who is in fact a very good actress, if it weren't for ADD casting directors and having the wrong body type (or whatever it is this week). Or perhaps you're an out-of-work jazz musician like Sebastian who has to adapt his style to a new generation of electronic music-lovers or play Christmas carols instead of Thelonious Monk to get your paycheck. This film shows the constant ups and downs and struggles in the industry. If it's your dream, you have no choice but to go after it.

There are a few recognizable faces (JK Simmons, the gorgeous Finn Wittrock, Rosemarie DeWitt, and a somewhat oddly placed John Legend) but this is really Stone and Gosling's show. I could see Stone winning some awards for this, but not necessarily Gosling. He felt more like her supporting actor, honestly. I found myself entranced by the visuals and their so seemingly real-life characters, though a montage at the end could have saved us a few minutes. It was just a hair too long.

Did I la la love La La Land? I had a feeling it could possibly replace Moulin Rouge! as my favorite film, but it did not. I really la la liked it, but I'm not dying to see it again just yet. Hollywood will reward this film for its originality, strong acting and overall production quality. Go see this movie, but be prepared for a very different style of film than what you may be used to, for better or for worse.

*Blogger's extra note: if you haven't seen Chazelle's Whiplash or GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) Moulin Rouge!, I can't recommend them enough.